Sparks continue to fly between the head of the group pushing for a four-lane highway across the northern part of the state of Montana and the state department that says that is what it is building.
A Montana Department of Transportation official says MDT is moving forward with building a four-lane U. S. Highway 2 from the North Dakota border west to Bainville.
But Bob Sivertsen, president of the Highway 2 Association, said he doubts that will come to fruition.
“As I have stated, we are being snowed again, ” Sivertsen said Sunday.
But Shane Mintz, real estate services section supervisor of MDT’s Right of Way Bureau, said last week the project to upgrade the highway to four lanes from North Dakota west to Bainville is proceding as planned.
The project was touted by Gov. Brian Schweitzer as the start of building a four-lane Highway 2 across the state. Schweitzer said in his campaign for governor in 2004 and again in 2008 that he supported a four-lane Highway 2. Once the project was announced, he said connecting to the highway’s four-lane configuration in North Dakota, then west through Montana, would justify the configuration.
The issue started in 2001, when a bill sponsored by state Sen. Sam Kitzenberg of Glasgow and passed by the Legislature required the state to upgrade U. S. Highway 2 to four lanes across Montana. At the request of then-MDT Director Dave Galt, Kitzenberg amended the bill to require that only federal money be used, with no state money expended in the projects.
State Sen. Ken “Kim” Hansen, D-Harlem, who has since left office due to term limits, later removed that restriction.
U. S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., appropriated federal money to conduct a study on a project proposed between Havre and Fort Belknap as part of the effort, coined 4-for-2 by its supporters.
That study ended finding that the benefits of a four-lane configuration would not justify the expense. The first section of that highway, from about three miles east of Havre to about 10 miles east of Havre, is nearly upgraded now to an improved two-lane with intermittent passing and turning lanes.
Sivertsen said during the study that it had been set to fail to support a four-lane configuration. He said if the study had considered the economic implications of creating a four-lane route from Minneapolis to the West Coast, rather than just looking at the impacts from Fort Belknap to Havre, the four-lane would be justified.
Mintz said work for the next section planned to be upgraded to four lanes, from Bainville to Culbertson, is now in the planning stages.
Mintz said the first part of the project from North Dakota is nearly complete. The project is building two lanes to serve as the acting highway while the next section is completed. The new construction, from North Dakota to Bainville, will serve as the westbound lanes in the fourlane configuration, he said.
Work to appraise what right-of-way acquisition is needed for the next phase, building the eastbound lanes, has begun, he said.
“The construction of this project will be subject to available funding, ” Mintz said.
Sivertsen said that is the problem. Waiting for funding will mean the project likely never will happen, he said.
“You don’t need funding if there are no plans …, ” he said. “All we get is promises. We will not see any four lane during Schweitzer’s reign, as promised, and that's a fact. ”